vrLAB 2017 – Brighton Digital Festival

vrLAB 2017 – Brighton Digital Festival

Last night I was fortunate enough to be able to get along to vrLAB, which is running as part of the Brighton Digital Festival (http://brightondigitalfestival.co.uk/) as a guest of make[REAL] (www.makereal.co.uk) , one of the exhibitors.

Located in The Old Market, vrLAB showcases a large number of interactive experiences and visualisations using technology such as the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear/Google Cardboard type devices.

From a gaming standpoint, the star of the show was the Loco Dojo party game (pictured), where 4 players spin a gaming wheel at a central hub to undertake a series of trials, win points and unlock achievements. The Oculus Rift-based game has bright, Saturday morning kids cartoon imagery, a catchy soundtrack and narration by the mighty Brian Blessed. As a showcase for the technology, the world is immersive and simple to navigate, although the big screen overhead meant any blunders were shared with the queue waiting to play!

Scattered around the performance space were other, single player or viewer experiences. Amongst those was a training tool used by the power company EDF to teach the basics of what makes a nuclear power station. This made use of a HTC Vive and was effectively a puzzle game where the player has to assemble parts to match a picture. I was impressed with how quickly I was able to get to grips with the controllers and was soon rotating pipe work and passing components from hand to hand to join up connections before seeing the completed reactor appear above my head. This experience also highlighted one of the limitations of the current batch of VR headsets – an assistant stood by to hold the cable as I blundered around, looking for parts. Otherwise I can imagine myself quickly becoming tangled and causing either a sudden disconnection or an expensive breakage!

Another game on show was Radial Racer, a Wipe-Out style game running on the Oculus Rift. The feeling of speed when racing along tagliatelli-style tracks was breath-taking, certainly more than anything I’ve experienced playing traditional console or PC racing games. Compared to my first experience of a VR driving game in the 1990s where the ‘video helmet’ was so heavy I spent most of the time looking down at a poorly rendered dashboard, this was totally immersive. Indeed, I quickly forgot I was even wearing the headset.

As well as puzzles and games, the vrLAB features artistic and educational exhibits. One such exhibit was a tool devised as part of a MA project by photography student Elvar Sig to help young and old alike understand the dangers and triggers of addiction. Made up of a set of linked 360-degree videos connected via a central hub with an overview video unlocked once the viewer has watched all three scenarios, the experience is moving, to say the least. As the viewer moves through the scenario, for example, a student becoming addicted to painkillers following an injury, the 360-degree nature of the experience makes looking to the left, right and behind to see the choices and consequences feels natural and makes for a far more striking experience rather than simply watching a safety video on a screen. At a technical level, the requirement of only a smartphone and Google cardboard is a masterstroke for accessibility, and the fact that Elvar Sig was able to create this alone using standard tools such as Photoshop, Premiere Pro and a normal digital camera is doubly impressive.

My two hour slot in the vrLAB passed rapidly, and other exhibits of note included two exhibits from BBC learning – a spacewalk around the International Space Station and an immersive documentary on the 1916 Easter Rising.  There were also virtual galleries and painting and more puzzle and mystery games. Check out the link below for the full list.

vrLAB runs until September 24 2017 in The Old Market in Brighton and a visit is highly recommended.

http://theoldmarket.com/shows/vrlab-2017/

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